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The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

April 2024

Jessica Arciniega, Katherine Kalpos, Morgan Sexton, and Amelia Vance




CC BY-NC 4.0


This year marks a major milestone in advocating for child and student privacy–FERPA is celebrating its 50th anniversary! As this pivotal act turns 50, rumors are picking up again that new FERPA regulations may soon be on the horizon. As calls to modernize FERPA get louder, we've been meticulously crafting our upcoming series: Fixing FERPA. This series isn't just about paying homage; it's meant to start a broader discussion about how a new round of FERPA rulemaking can improve FERPA’s protections. We carefully pinpoint FERPA’s pain points and propose ways to fix them, ideally enhancing FERPA regulations to meet today's digital and diverse learning environments. In preparation to launch our Fixing FERPA series, we've pulled together a list of our top resources on the inner workings of FERPA as it stands today. Whether you're starting from square one or are looking for a quick FERPA refresher ahead of a future (potentially soon?) rulemaking process, start by checking out these great resources. And don't forget–this is just the warm-up! Stay tuned for our upcoming series when we discuss ways to revamp FERPA for the future.

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1. Introduction

To start exploring FERPA and how it works to protect student privacy, we recommend two key resources tailored for beginners. The first is Student Privacy 101: FERPA for Parents and Students–a brief, informative 4-minute video from the Federal Privacy Compliance Office (FPCO). This video offers an efficient kickstarter that encapsulates the basics of FERPA, with an overview that is both quick and to the point. With the basics covered, we suggest turning next to a 30-minute course from the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), FERPA 101: For Local Education Agencies. This course dives deeper into FERPA’s protections for a more rounded understanding of its provisions, its exceptions, and how it operates. Together these resources serve as the perfect combination–starting with a format that's short and sweet, then adding more detail.

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2. FERPA Rights

FERPA provides parents and eligible students certain rights to access and control the privacy of personal information (PII) in educational records. To learn more about what these rights entail, we recommend starting with these three resources. For a concise summary, turn to FERPA Model Notification of Rights for Elementary & Secondary Schools from PTAC. This is the exact language PTAC recommends that schools use in annual notifications to inform their community of the FERPA rights. For more details, check out A Parent Guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and An Eligible Student Guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) from the Student Privacy Policy Office (SPPO). These two resources are specially crafted to give parents and eligible students a deeper understanding of what their FERPA rights are and to clearly explain various FERPA provisions. Think of these three resources as your ultimate guide to the FERPA rights. 

3. Exceptions

To fully grasp how FERPA operates in practice, it is crucial to learn about the various exceptions to FERPA’s consent requirement. You can refer to this table from PTAC, FERPA Exceptions—Summary, for a quick summary of FERPA’s most common exceptions to the consent requirement. For more on directory information, we highly recommend reading the Model Notice for Directory Information from PTAC, which is how PTAC recommends schools explain their directory information policies in annual notices. Additionally, be sure to check out Who Exactly IS a "School Official" Anyway? from the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) to learn more about the nuances of schools sharing student data with third-parties (like edtech vendors). Last–but certainly not least–we're excited to announce that our upcoming series, Fixing FERPA, includes a comprehensive chart explaining all of the FERPA exceptions along with practical examples of how each exception comes up in practice. This invaluable resource has already been published, and keep an eye out for when we release the rest of the series!

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4. Online Learning

As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to virtual learning, understanding the nuances of how FERPA applies to online environments has become crucial. To help navigate the complexities here, we highly recommend that you start with FERPA and Virtual Learning During Covid-19–a presentation from Kala Shah Surprenant, former acting director of the SPPO, that clearly dissects how FERPA applies to a range of online learning scenarios. For each scenario, there are key takeaways and questions to consider, making this a fantastic guide to navigating how FERPA applies in similar real-world situations! We also recommend this resource from FPF, Dept of Ed: Schools Cannot Require Parents or Students to Waive Their FERPA Rights Through Ed Tech Company’s Terms of Service, which explores the Department of Education's Agora enforcement letter stating that schools cannot ask parents or eligible students to waive their FERPA rights as a precondition for receiving an education. Additionally, we point to FERPA and Virtual Learning from PTAC as a great place to look for further resources the Department has released about FERPA’s application to online learning.


For details how FERPA operates in different scenarios, PTAC maintains a Frequently Asked Questions webpage. Whether you're wondering what records are exempt from FERPA, curious about how student PII can be shared with various government entities, or trying to pinpoint how photos and videos fit into FERPA’s framework—this resource is your one-stop-shop for Q & A directly with the regulators themselves. Long story short, if you have specific FERPA questions that aren’t covered in the resources above, check to see if they’ve been answered here. And if they haven’t, feel free to reach out to us with your specific FERPA questions. We are happy to be a resource for your student and child privacy related questions!

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